Good and bad habits, and discipline

I was busy cooking the other morning when it dawned on me: I must be a really boring person, because I always make the same breakfast (see photo above)!

It seemed, to my not quite fully awake mind, that a not so boring person would find all sorts of ways to make a healthy breakfast, whereas all I do is make the same healthy breakfast every morning. And I don’t need to be fully awake to do it.

Actually, when my mind started working a bit better, I realized that I have formed a breakfast habit: I make pretty much the same breakfast every morning, and it is a healthy breakfast. And since when I’m fully awake I’m pretty much always in “coaching mode,” it made me think of the need to talk about habits in relation to the oft-misunderstood concept of discipline. So here’s a post about that.

You see, when you have habits, you don’t need discipline.

Wait, no, let me re-phrase that a little:

When you have good habits, you don’t need very much discipline.

There, that’s better. But wait, don’t go yet; allow me to explain a little.

Habits

We all have them. There can be no doubt about that. Many, as a matter of fact.

Whether it is the side of the bed you sleep on, the time of day when you read your newspaper, how many hours per day you spend reading Facebook, the road you take to get to work every day, or what you eat on a typical day, these are only some of the habits you likely have.

I can almost hear you say “but, those are just routine things we do,” and you are correct. Because that is exactly what habits become: The routine, automatic things we do without really thinking about them.

It is true of things like breakfast, as I illustrated. Most of us eat the same thing day in, day out. It saves time, and it is efficient.

Many of you are probably tempted to respond that you don’t really have a choice in the matter, perhaps by providing the example of the route to get to work, which is what it is simply because of the origin and destination combination. I must, however, put a red light to that train of thought: If you think about it a little, except in some very specific situations, there is always a way to find alternate means and routes that, at some point, you decided against. Route choices were made at some point in time, and you’ve become comfortable with those decisions.

But you could choose to sleep on the other side of the bed, to not read Facebook at all, to read the newspaper at another moment of the day, to use a roundabout way to get to work. It might not be comfortable, and perhaps it would mean a longer transit time, and less recent information to discuss with colleagues at the water cooler (and in the case of Facebook, a lot more free time for other things), but it is possible.

Hence the inescapable conclusion that our lives are filled with habits that we accept. We simply could not function if we had to make every single decision about every action everyday. So we form habits.

The question is : Are they good habits, or bad habits? You see, the key to fitness and health becomes one of having more good habits than bad one.

Good or bad?

So, if you are still here, the idea is to have more good habits than bad ones.

Because I’m such a helpful kind of guy (that’s what good coaches are), I’m going to give you a few examples:

  • Good: To move regularly, frequently. Every day, if possible, even it it is not very strenuously.
  • Bad: To stay idle for too long, like sitting in a chair at the office.
  • Good: To eat real food; meals made from fresh ingredients without extensive processing by machines.
  • Bad: To drink calories, largely through pops, but also by consuming juices, milk, etc.
  • Good: To get off the couch and do physical work around (and outside) the house on weekends, or just to go outside to play with the kids.
  • Bad: To get on the couch and watch sports on TV on weekends, especially if accompanied by lots of liquid calories and NOT FOOD items.
  • Good: To cook your own meals.
  • Bad: To eat prepared meals, either bought in grocery stores (especially in the frozen aisles) or at restaurants (especially fast food restaurants).
  • Good: To read this blog on a regular basis.
  • Bad: To read Facebook for more than 30 minutes per day.

Ok, I think you are getting the point; even if I add a bit of humour around it, you know this is a serious matter.

But keep in mind that I’m talking about habits here. Once in a while, those “bad” behaviours are not a problem. They become a problem, however, when they are automatic, casual, and frequent actions. When that’s the case, something has to be done.

Discipline, what is it good for?

If you are like most folks, you are a little in awe of elite athletes. At the very least, you probably have some admiration for them, as well as for those who manage to train regularly.

You might be telling yourself something like “Wow! I wish I were that disciplined myself…”

At this point, you should begin to understand that training regularly is more a matter of having good habits than of having a strong self-discipline. With good habits, the behaviours that impress us the most are actually easy, because that are automatic!

But don’t get me wrong : This is not to say those athletes (and everyday athletes) we admire don’t have any discipline. They do. It is just that their discipline is used sparingly, and put to work where it works best.

If you try to apply discipline to make yourself do your training sessions, or eat better, you will run out of steam before very long. And you will fail. The good habits you seek will not be created.

You must first set your lifestyle, your daily and weekly routine, so as to make the good habits possible, instead of trying to wedge good behaviours into a routine that is not built to accommodate them. You must have a Purpose, and align your activities accordingly. Discipline comes a distant second, or even third if you include a good dose of motivation, towards building good habits that will serve your purpose.

Then, and only then, do you use discipline to eliminate bad habits. And to make sure you don’t go overboard in your training, like doing too much, too soon.

What does discipline at work look like?

You are tempted to read Facebook? Get up and go for a short walk. You feel like having yet another large coffee with lots of sugar and cream? Take a tall glass of water instead (and for crying out loud, don’t take it out of a plastic bottle!).

Simply put: Say “no” to the bad habit. You know how to recognize it when you see it…

If you use discipline to limit the behaviours you wish to do away with anyway, while you have set the stage for good habits to form, you stand a better chance of succeeding. At least, according to my life, and coaching, experience.

Saying “no” to the “free” pop with a meal or during a meeting at work, not picking up a fast food meal on your way home after work, or refraining from doing “just a few more kilometres” when in fact your training session is completed, that’s what discipline is good for.

The heavy lifting is done by establishing good habits, by being mindful of what your Purpose is, and setting the stage correctly. That Purpose might be something like “To be healthy and fit so as to live a long, active life” or it could be something else; what matters is that it must be explicit.

Choose your own, and be clear about it. Then set the stage for the good habits that will support your Purpose. And only then, when you really need it (and not all that often), use discipline to stay on course…

Photo credits: Sacha Veillette

10 Things to stop believing RIGHT NOW about fitness and health

 In no particular order, here are a few things I feel strongly about. It is not about being right or wrong; my purpose here is to bring to your attention the fact that holding erroneous beliefs can, and does, influence our daily actions.

If given half a chance to think, most of us would say they don’t hold most of the erroneous beliefs on this list. But our actions reveal that, somehow, a lot of those ideas still have a hold on us. Otherwise, both our bodies and our planet would be in much better shape.

1) Exercise is something only athletes do; the rest of us should just watch sports on TV.

Our bodies are supposed to move in order to function optimally. That’s just the way biological entities such as ourselves work. Not like mechanical devices that get damaged and used up the more you use them. Within reason, we must submit our bodies to physical stressors (i.e. exercise) for all systems to do what they are supposed to do. So move. And move some more.

2) Humans are something different from other animals; outside of, or “beyond” nature.

We are animals. We have a lot in common with other animals. We live, we exist, on the only planet we know of that is capable of harboring life. What sustains life is the intricate inter-connection of all living things, the web of relationships that constitute all the ecosystems and, at the largest scale we know of, the biosphere of planet Earth. What we do has an effect on everything else alive on this planet. While there are variations in the details, all life on this planet functions essentially the same way. I could go on about the implications, but at least you should keep this in mind: We cannot exist without nature, or outside of it, and we often delude ourselves into thinking that we understand everything there is to understand about our bodies and its interactions with the environment. We don’t.

3) Information about health and fitness found on the Internet can be trusted.

This blog being one of the notable exceptions, keep in mind that just because it is on the Web, it does not mean it comes from someone that should be trusted. There have been plenty of fads and outright frauds over the last few years, so be careful. Always ask yourself: Is someone profiting from this “advice” I’m reading? (In the case of this blog, by way, the answer is “no.” Just thought it was worth repeating.)

4) Everything we see offered on grocery shelves and in restaurants is food.

NOT! Definitely NOT! As a matter of fact, a lot of it is NOT FOOD, and should be treated accordingly. We all need to make better choices on a daily basis, while not going overboard about it… So, think twice before putting some things in your mouth. (Need to be reminded of what NOT FOOD is? You can find quite a bit on this blog about it.)

5) Food, real food that is, will cure any disease we suffer from.

Nope. Sorry. Good nutrition, by which I mean eating real food, not too much, and mostly from plants, will set the stage for your body to function well. And that helps prevent some diseases. But if you are very sick from something, even if the initial damage was done by eating very badly, chances are the damage is already done, and can’t easily be reversed. If that is your situation, seek real medical attention! Refer back to items 3 and 4 above if still necessary. 

6) Nevertheless, there are so-called “superfoods” that will cure any disease we suffer from.

Look, we all want to believe in silver bullets, miracle cures, and the Easter Bunny (among other things). That doesn’t make them real. Real food is good for you. It is part of ensuring your body has a fair chance of remaining healthy. But no single food will reverse years of neglect, abuse, or injury. Eating well, like being physically fit, requires some effort. There are no free lunches in this world, so to speak.

7) Running is bad for you and/or will cause you problems with your knees.

Done correctly, in moderation (and moderation still allows for a lot of running!), regular exercise like running actually makes our bodies (muscles, joints, internal organs) get stronger and function better. It is true that some people get injured, and that some people have gotten into trouble with their knees, but be careful of jumping to conclusions. Seek advice about technique, don’t try to do too much too soon, and you’ll find that running is probably the best, cheapest, and most easily accessible form or exercise around. See the next point for a kind of continuation of this.

8) In order to get fitter, we need to follow the latest training regimen, or buy the latest toy.

Definitely not. Exercise, and training if you go at it a bit more seriously, is not complicated. And it does not require much in terms of equipment. Those exercise crazes and newfangled regimens you read or hear about are no better than what simple advice a real coach can give you. They typically only serve the purpose of getting participants all hyped up and motivated for a short while. And make lots of money for their promoters. Remember the bit about questionning who profits? It applies here.

9) Devices like escalators and door openers help us conserve our energy and should be used by everyone.

Just because a device exists and is readily available, doesn’t mean we should all use it. I’m always amazed (to put it politely) to watch perfectly capable people press the door opener button at the entrance of a building, or take the escalator (or elevator) to go up one floor (or two or three, for that matter). There are people with limited mobility for whom those devices were installed, and that is great. But the rest of us can, and should do more with our own bodies! Similarly with some power tools and gardening implements, by the way.

10) The water coming out of the tap is not good.

Please, please, please, stop drinking bottled water. The plastic is choking our oceans and wrecking the food chain. Ok, this is a pet peeve of mine, but we mindlessly adhere to the notion that our water supply is not good and we must drink bottled water. This is pure propaganda, er, I mean, marketing. Guess what? Except in some very specific situations, our tap water is by and large excellent. Heck, some bottled water companies fill their bottles from tap water. So drink water. Just plain water, by the way; that’s what you need. Use a re-fillable bottle. Drink out of a glass. Anything but buying (buying! something that’s free already in all of our homes!). By the way, please also try to use fewer plastic straws. But that’s another battle…

11) There are only 10 Things that people erroneously believe about fitness and health.

This one is a bonus, and speaks for itself. But I think I’ve listed the biggest elephants in the room. Let me know what you think.

Photo credits: Sophie Tremblay-Paquet

5 Things to Do while Traveling (to stay in, or get back into, shape)

 One finds inspiration where one can.

Take this post, for instance:

My wife and I are currently in Florida for a conference. Well, it is more accurate to say that my wife is here for a conference; I’m just tagging along to keep her company and to carry the luggage. (Isn’t that convenient?)

This short trip is bringing back to mind a whole slew of tips and advice about traveling and keeping in shape. Or getting back in shape. So allow me to use the opportunity to pass on a small part of my vast amount of knowledge. (Not to put too humble a point on it.)

And since we all know that posts with a number between two and ten are far more likely to be read, I’ve distilled the fount into five key ideas.

1) If you travel by plane, wear comfortable clothing and running shoes, and walk as much as you can.

At the airport, don’t just go straight to the boarding area once you have (finally) gone through the mandatory security checkpoint: go for a walk, do some sightseeing, and use the time to visit the airport and check out the various planes. Finding yourself between two flights and with some time on your hands? Walk to your next gate instead of using the various escalators, moving sidewalks, and inter-terminal trains that are so prevalent in airports. Seize every opportunity to move on your own power…

2) If you travel by car for a long time, stop frequently to do body weight exercices, or just to walk a little.

It will help you remain in top shape for driving, and make the road trip more enjoyable. Better yet: Plan your itinerary so as to have some running or hiking stops along the way. The drive should also be part of the trip, not just something to get over with as quickly (and stressfully) as possible, so why not make the most of it? Your entire trip will be fare more relaxing that way!

3) Get outside, but in particular, get out of your comfort zone, by trying new activities or sports.

You happen to be in a place where nobody knows you? Use the opportunity to try something you might not be very good at, so you won’t have to worry about being embarrassed (taking pictures and posting to Facebook is entirely up to you)! Never used snowshoes? Try some on and go for a wintery hike! Never played tennis? Grab a racket and hit a few balls, or take a private class to learn how to play! Haven’t been on a bicycle since you were a wee lad? Rent a bike and knock yourself out (not literally, please)! Never participated in a spinning class because, like me, you consider it to not be real bike training? Broaden your mind a little, like I did yesterday, and try it!

4) If you are heading to the sun and warmth in response to winter’s onslaught, please, please (please!) don’t just lie on the beach sipping alcoholic beverages and eating food (or worse, NOT FOOD).

First of all, moving will help you relax a lot more than just doing nothing. Or stuffing your face. The heat may seem oppressive at first, but while crisping yourself in the sun will help your vitamin D levels, it does not melt fat. Moreover, it puts you at risk for skin cancer. So enjoy the warmth and use the time to move. Also, should you be enjoying an “all included” hotel in a sunny setting, don’t forget that alcohol is high in calories, and that drinking a lot just because it is included in the deal is a sure way to send the signal to your body that your brain is not really in charge. Be reasonable. Water is better for you. Incidentally, a beach also has a lot of water; you can do more than just cool yourself off in it: You can swim in it, too!

5) Don’t just take a break from your daily grind: Use the opportunity to start a new routine.

Vacation time, or even just short business (or otherwise) trips, have the great advantage that they break the monotony of the daily grind. It is a break that does not need to be just temporary. You can use the opportunity of a trip of any length to put aside old habits, and put in place new, and better, ones. For instance, adding a walking routine to your day, removing some food (or NOT FOOD) items from your diet, setting a few minutes aside each evening for a meditative look-back on the day, reducing the amount of TV you watch, etc. Changing habits is easier when there is a clean break; do you know anything that is a cleaner break than a trip? Moreover, after you return, you can use the newly formed habit as an enjoyable reminder, almost as an extension, of the vacation time…

So there you have it! Use the opportunity to move more, whether you go far or not so far, and improve your fitness. I have to stop now, because it is time to go for a run, barefooted, on the beach…

Photo credits: Sacha Veillette

This is NOT a detox

Food, detox, nutrition, health

An ordinary meal, provided you take the time to prepare it.

Nor is it a mixture of “super foods” designed to prevent cancer.

It is also not an extraordinary meal that requires hours of work to prepare.

Nope.

All it is, is a meal made at home from basic ingredients.

(Note also that it is not a carefully planned photo shoot: The pictures were taken at meal time, because that’s when I realized it might be worth talking about it in this blog.)

There’s nothing magical about it, no silver bullet for anything in it; moreover, it requires a bit of time and energy to put together.

Nothing miraculous about the ingredients either:

  • Small potatoes,
  • fresh beets (3-4, not from a can),
  • celery (one whole “heart,” sliced thinly),
  • peppers (one red, one yellow, for colour variety),
  • green onions (3, I seem to recall chopping in there),
  • a few cashew nuts to add crunchiness,
  • a bit of coconut powder/flakes (because my wife insisted).

These ingredients don’t come from our garden (not yet), but some (the beets and green onions) were purchased at a local farmers’ market. We are lucky to now live fairly close to one, and of having the free time to go buy stuff there.

Actually, come to think of it, it is not a matter of having the free time to go: It is the desire to take the time to go. It is about resolving not to let easier ways, and the illusion of being short on time, take control of our lives. That’s the real message of this post. And it is a topic I’ll re-visit in the future.

Final ingredient? Home-made mayo. That’s a habit we have taken recently, and it is highly satisfying. We know exactly what we put in our mayo. But if you are not sure about making mayo, you can always use ordinary olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar. We happen to think that such a “potato and beet salad” goes better with mayo, and because it is meant to be mostly made from scratch, it should be home-made mayo.

As a matter of fact, even the home-made mayo only requires a few minutes to make. Really. Therein lies the drama of our modern existence: We are told, and we tend to think, that making food from scratch requires a lot of time. It takes time, but not that much.

Instead of reading the paper, or watching TV, or worse, reading silly stuff on Facebook or the Web about what “famous people” have been up to lately, we can find better uses for our time.

Before I forget, you have to steam the potatoes and beets before using them in the salad. I use a little steamer, and that pretty much dictates the quantity of potatoes I put in, once the beets are cubed and in the steamer. Let them cool down before mixing them in with the rest of the ingredients; you can steam them a day or more in advance, while doing something else, or use the cooling-down time to chop the rest of the veggies. The mayo can be made while the potatoes and beets are being steamed, or hours or even days in advance.

I think my wife added a few spices (some salt, hot pepper flakes) while my back was turned. That’s to taste (and I never question hers).

Nutrition, Food, detox, Health

Go ahead, take some more. It’s all good.

So, this is not an extraordinary meal, and this post is not a recipe. Not quite. But it is good food, so you are welcome to seconds, and you don’t even need to think about the calories.

And even though this mix of vegetables and home-made mayo is not a detox meal, I can guarantee that it is a very effective way of measuring the time it takes food to transit through your digestive system. (This is very useful, because we hear a lot of weird statements about food that “get stuck” in our intestines, etc. We tend to associate some feelings like bloating and heaviness to food consumed a few minutes prior, or many hours earlier, without really knowing our own normal transit time. Well, eat this salad, and you’ll have real data to use in the future…)

Because when it goes through “the other end” after anywhere between 12 and 36 hours, you will notice.

Try it, and let me know how it “goes”…

Photo credits: Sacha Veillette

So you want to lose weight. Why? (Part 2)

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Diet, Movement, Weight Loss

Are you losing (weight)? Are your reasons Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Last time I covered what can be considered the “good” reasons for wanting to lose weight.

That part is not controversial at all, and based on pretty solid scientific evidence.

This post, on the other hand, will cover the “bad” and the “ugly” reasons for wanting to lose weight.

As such, you have to understand that these are my opinions, and that they may not be pleasant to read for everyone. Yet it might be a good idea to read on, and comment on the post. A healthy dialogue might ensue. (Stranger things have happened.)

The Bad

The single bad reason I can think of for wanting to lose weight is also the most common one: To look a certain way.

We are bombarded by images of men and women that look very slim, or very buff, or very both. Never mind that they are largely doctored images, fabricated by an untrustworthy industry; we’ve come to associate such looks with fitness, and desire.

And, sadly, as others have pointed out, even looking strong is actually looking very slim. There is no room in those images for being strong and fit but not looking like a model. And that’s really bad.

You cannot stand for fitness and health and insist on looking like a model. While it is natural for a very small portion of humanity to look that way, for the vast majority it is simply not healthy.

Even fitness models, perhaps one of the weirdest inventions of our modern age, are not to be trusted. They are a contradiction in terms, with their fake nails, fake tans, fake… you name it.

Fitness is a naturally occurring state of being when one is very active and eats well (see my post on the definition of fitness if you need a refresher). And, in a slight leap of meaning, we could think of what is natural for a body, in terms of shape and looks, as being fitness. Allowing your body to be shaped the way its own genetic code programs it for is more akin to fitness than forcing it into a specific shape through dieting or excessive exercise. And silicone implants.

“But wait,” you want to tell me, “what if looking a certain way (i.e. like a model, or a fitness model) is going to make me feel good? Isn’t feeling good something you filed under ‘The Good’ in your previous post?”

Health, Fitness, Weight Loss, Exercise

Looks can be deceiving. Do you really see what you think you see?

Feeling good based on how we look exclusively, instead of how our bodies actually feel (and what they are capable of) is exactly the same as thinking we are going to be happy once we get rich. For those who go down that road, the destination is never reached: the richer they get, the more they compare themselves to yet richer folks, and the less satisfied they are with the wealth they have.

Basing your self-esteem, your “feeling good,” on looks alone is one sure way to never have much self-esteem, or feeling good for more than a fleeting moment, because you’ll always find yourself wanting in some way. And that’s definitely bad.

The Ugly

What could be worse than wanting to look a certain way when it comes to reasons for wanting to lose weight?

Well, perhaps not “worse,” but definitely an ugly trend, and a pet peeve of mine: Losing weight in order to better perform during races.

Some otherwise fairly fit folks get convinced by coaches, or perhaps by reading too much so-called training advice out of context, to lose weight in order to reach an “ideal” racing weight. To “make their numbers,” like power-to-weight ratio, better.

Yes, if you were not familiar with this, it is true. And very sad.

Granted, when you watch the pros racing in Kona, or running the Boston marathon, they sure don’t seem to carry any extra weight. And their numbers look great on paper.

But they did not get that way because they followed a regimen destined to make them lose weight at the last minute so that their numbers would look great. They got there through years of intense training, and gradual adaptation.

While it is true that shedding a bit of weight will make VO2max (the weight-normalized version, not the absolute number) and power metrics look a little better, which on paper would appear to indicate a better potential racing performance, that is a very, very ugly reason for losing weight. And it is no guarantee that the performance will ensue (except perhaps through a bit of placebo-like effect).

Because the new, lower weight, is not natural for your body, even if you are fit. Going on a crash weight loss regimen in the last few days, or even a few weeks, before a race is a bad idea. Your body might very well interpret it as a famin situation, and curb your performance in order to make energy reserves last longer.

Instead, we are all much better off improving the fundamentals of our bodies; work on the “top line” part of the performance equation (power, speed, economy) and let your body find a natural fitness equilibrium over time. At a weight it is comfortable with.

Health, Fitness, Power, Weight, Exercise, Training

It is not just running and triathlon where this applies. Any sport where the body has to be moved is subject to abuse of power metrics.

The bottom line

You still with me? Nice. There’s hope.

Talking of hope, I hope you understand this pair of posts is only partially based on science; namely, Part 1, about why too much fat in the wrong place is dangerous for your long-term health. That’s well established.

The rest is in part psychology, part training advice of dubious quality, and some of it is still the subject of much conjecture.

The bottom line is that you should trust how your body feels as you use it. Move, move some more, and appreciate what your body can do. You should start with that, not just with an aim to lose a certain amount of weight.

Don’t pay attention to how people look; looks can be very deceiving. And unhealthy.

And by all means, steer clear of any coach who starts by saying you should lose weight. Or uses that reasoning to suggest better performance can be attained…

Pictures from Pixabay

So you want to lose weight. Why? (Part 1)

Health, Fitness, Diet, Weight Loss, Exercise

What’s your reason? Careful: Even this picture might be misleading.

I don’t mean to be nasty with this short series of posts, but let’s face it: Most people will probably not like it.

In fact, most people who think they need to lose weight will just stop reading pretty soon. After this post, to be precise.

Why?

Because of that very question. Asking “why?” hints at a re-assessment of one’s actions or motivation. In this day and age, questioning actions, and the thoughts behind those actions, is often seen as a critique of the person behind the thoughts and the actions. Even though they are not the same at all.

Something as important as weight, and actions taken for losing some or maintaining a “healthy weight,” must be considered carefully.

You see, weight is an extremely important predictor of long-term health.

Well, actually, some indicators related to weight are important predictors of long-term health. All too often, we take the short-cut of using weight alone, but in fact those indicators are far more important.

Take BMI, for instance. Nope, bad example; BMI has been widely discredited as the indicator to use. Which is actually a good example of why it is important to question what we are being taught, and what we think, about weight.

The current thinking is that abdominal fat (mid-section circumference measurement) and body composition (percentage of fat) are more accurate indicators. So we should all keep an eye on those.

But chances are pretty good that, if you are reading this and are trying to lose weight, those are not the indicators you are trying to change. And long-term health, deep down, is not what you are after. It should be your Purpose, but you probably have different answers to the question “why?”.

Don’t get me wrong: There are many good reasons for wanting to lose weight. And then there are some bad ones. And there are even some ugly ones.

Let’s have a look, shall we? Starting, for now, with the “good” reasons… (You still there?)

The Good

As already stated, without a doubt, maintaining a healthy weight that keeps our waists and fat percentages in the “correct” range is the best possible reason for losing weight. If you are not currently in that range.

It has been shown repeatedly that many chronic illnesses, diseases of affluence as they are sometimes called, can be avoided or their odds greatly reduced by keeping our weight in check: type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and even cancer are less prevalent, to name just the most impressive ones.

But there is a second reason, not studied the same way, that also should matter: Feeling good about your body and its ability to “do stuff.”

By maintaining a healthy weight, everyday actions are just routine, not a major chore, to accomplish. I’m not just talking about fitting in the confines of a car’s driver’s seat or airplane passenger’s seat, but the general, normal feeling, of being able to move about unimpeded. Of not having to worry about whether you can go up a flight of stairs. Of not feeling like you have to take your car to go to the corner store.

There is a lot to be said about just feeling good about your body and its ability to move.

In today’s world of energy saving, and of considering physical exertion something to be avoided, we have lost track of how good it feels to move. That is something that slowly goes away when we become sedentary and gain too much circumference and fat.

It’s as if we’ve reset the discomfort threshold over time, so that now even the slightest effort becomes difficult, and we feel terrible as soon as we try to do something that was once routine.

Resetting that discomfort threshold, recalibrating our bodies, and re-gaining that good feeling that comes from movement is an essential part of why it may be a good idea to lose weight.

My next post will explore what I call the Bad, and the Ugly, reasons for wanting to lose weight. Stay tuned.

And keep on moving, no matter what your current weight might be.

Fitness, Exercise, Health, Movement

Move. And focus on how good your body feels when you do.

Pictures from Pixabay

Same old, same old… if you want to get old in good shape

Exercise, Everyday, Health, Fitness, Training

Go ahead, make a move! Make it over and over again…

I know, I said I would write about physiology next. But that will have to wait just a little longer.

Today’s post will sound like I’m repeating myself, and of course it is a little the case.

In my defense, it is a well-known fact of communication that in order for your message to get through, and for it to be believed, it must be repeated many times. (Preferably by more than one independent “sources,” though that never stopped anyone. Just think of the persuasion success the American leadership had a few years ago about weapons of mass destruction…)

So while I continue learning about physiology (I’m taking an online course, among other things) and clarifying my thinking about how to get that message across effectively, today I’m inviting you to review some recent news items about the importance of fitness for long-term health.

(Added note: I know most bloggers would have split this up in 2 or 3 topics. I’m not most bloggers because I prefer to see things as they fit together, not apart. And I think most people are capable of taking a bit of extra time to read a slightly longer post, instead of three short ones. Like my coaching, my blogging is about quality, not quantity…)

In the News

There has not been anything ground-breaking in the news lately; the artificial conflict between maintaining (or returning to) a healthy weight through diet alone versus exercising more (while being careful what we eat) has been raging. Because most folks on the “food only” side are clearly peddling books and special diets, I’m not even going to talk about what ridiculous stuff has been said on that side of the “debate.”

Instead, you should keep in mind that the best way to increase the odds of being healthy for a long time is through exercising a lot, and being careful about the food (not too much, mostly from plants) we ingest. That’s the “same old, same old” part of my message.

In support of that, you should read an interesting article about how many of the health problems of aging are due to inactivity, not “just” getting old. This is exactly what I mean when writing about muscles being extremely important, not just for metabolic reasons, but to keep bones and brains healthy.

Basically, to be healthy and active well into old age, you need to use your muscles more. The thing is, as one of my favorite authors on the subject has recently added, you don’t even need to do a whole lot in order to reap the benefits. That’s a key point about the approach I embrace and promote: balance is more healthy than excess.

Exercise, Health, Fitness, Training, Marathon

Running the New York Marathon in 2013.

For instance, while I say that we should all move a lot more than we currently do, there are some who say that we should all be training like professional triathletes, 25 or more hours per week. And others say we should not move at all, and instead restrict what we eat in a radical way.

I’m clearly not on the side of diet restrictions without any exercise, and I’ve run ultra-marathons and I do an ironman distance triathlon each year “just to stay in shape,” but even I would not pretend that such a level of training is sustainable for everyone. Although not sustainable, it may be something to shoot for, or, at least, going well beyond the “standard” recommendations of some 150 minutes per week of exercise, remains a very good idea.

Which brings me (finally) to a third tidbit of news about those who have been clamoring that doing marathons and intense training for more than 150 minutes per week were actually causing damage instead of doing good for their health. In light of new research, it seems they are admitting that our bodies can really benefit from a lot more exercise than they previously allowed for.

Moving More, Up to A Point

But keep in mind that, based on the research, there is a diminishing return to be had from increasing the activity level. And at some point, while it may not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer (which is what the study was concerned with), you up the risk of injury, which is not really taken into consideration from what I’ve read so far.

As reported in Runner’s World:

When mortality rates were adjusted for exercise levels, the researchers found the lowest rate among those who exercised about three to five times the amount recommended by federal guidelines (i.e., 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running). However, the increased benefit of working out three to five times more than the guidelines was modest, the researchers wrote.

More importantly to serious runners, there was no evidence of harm at ten or more times the recommended minimum.

At three to five times the federal guidelines, you are in marathon and short-distance triathlon training territory. Maybe up to a decent half-ironman. Nothing crazy. And sustainable, if part of a lifestyle choice that features living a long and healthy life as its Purpose.

And you can go well beyond that, if you are careful.

Same Old Advice (Summary)

In summary, allow me to repeat what little wisdom I can impart, based on what I’ve learned and what more knowledgeable people have said before me:

  1. Move, a lot, because our bodies are at their best when they do.
  2. Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.
  3. Obtain, and follow, the advice of a coach (especially if you are going to train seriously for something like a marathon or triathlon (or any endurance- or speed- or strength-focused sport).
  4. Steer clear of excess and obsession; strive for balance in all things.

Oh, and I should probably have added “stay tuned.”

Because I’m bound to come back to this subject, and provide more specific advice over time.

After all, much like with training, repetition is what eventually gets the message through… and turns it into a no-brainer.

Running, Marathon, Fitness, Health, Training, Exercise

A bunch of superheroes with their capes, or tired marathon runners done running?

Photos by the author at various events.